Urban Father: A Tribute to Don Sims

Don Sims with his Sister Doris, Circa 1935

I cried at the Knoxville Veterans Day Parade a few weeks ago when “Taps,” was played. I’m not sure why it’s always been an emotional song for me, for while its meaning is powerful, I never served in the military. Later that evening, five hundred miles away, a man who did serve, suffered a fall as he walked across his living room. That fall would start a chain of events that would find me, less than three weeks later, hearing “Taps,” for a second time in November and knowing very well why I cried.

Don Sims, born in 1933 in Logansport, Louisiana, on the Texas border, entered the world to a family struggling their way through the Great Depression. His father worked in the oil field and his mother worked raising, eventually, eight children. Neither parent finished high school and the family didn’t have electricity until he was twelve years old.

Don Sims with His Prize Hog circa 1948

His early years were filled with wonder at seeing Germans in prison camps in north Louisiana, raising hogs for 4-H, riding his horse to high school basketball practice and feeling terrified when, from horseback, he saw his first jet cross the sky above him. His was the first class in Louisiana to go through twelfth grade.

Moving all around Louisiana and Mississippi, as the oil field jobs dictated, he graduated from Stanley High School and, after a brief time working with the telephone company, enlisted in the Navy in 1951. The Navy offered his first exposure to the world as he spent time in California and, eventually, in Japan during the Korean War. Discharged in 1953, he made his way, hitchhiking across the country, to join his family in an oil field in Citronelle, Alabama.

Don Sims, US Navy, 1952

Urban Father and Urban Mother, Circa 1956

It was there he met and married a local high school girl and, when she was set to have their first child, he honored a vow he had made as a child when he had attended six different schools in fourth grade: he left the oil field to take a job that paid less, but would not force his family to move so often. He wanted a better life for his yet-to-be-born children.

He got a job at Scott Paper Company in Mobile, Alabama and bought a house trailer to place on his in-law’s land. Fortunate to start his factory job in an era of good benefits, advancement potential and increasing pay, he worked his way into management. He “pulled” double shifts to save money to take his two sons on trips in the Chevrolet to the Smoky Mountains, the 1967 World’s Fair in Montreal, Acapulco, Mexico, Colorado and as many places as he could afford. On a low budget, he opened the world to his children in a way it was never opened to him as a child.

Urban Father and Urban Guy

Urban Father, Urban Brother and Urban Guy, circa 1965

He worked an entire career in one place, before retiring and becoming a consultant. For the last ten years he worked, he boarded one of those jets that made him marvel so as a child, flying hundreds of miles every Sunday night from Mobile, Alabama, to work a route in the northeastern United States and Canada. He’d fly back to Alabama every Friday. He loved the cold weather and snow and he loved returning home to that girl he’d married fifty years earlier.

After about ten years, he left his consulting job and joined his wife as they continued the travel they enjoyed so much. Multiple trips to Israel, Europe, Hawaii and other places filled their last happy years together. When she was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, there was no doubt that he would care for her until it became impossible. He loved her to the end and, after her death, remarried at eighty-one years old. He was married for three years this past August.

Family Portrait Circa 1994

Urban Father, Urban Daughter and Urban Girl

But all of the above is nothing more than a biographical outline of, in many ways, an ordinary life for many people of the era. It doesn’t begin to express the person that young boy from a small town in Louisiana became. Who he became was quite simply, not only my father, but the best man I have ever known.

I’ve never known a more honest person. I have no doubt that I never heard my father lie. It wasn’t in him. When, as a very small child, I took a rubber door-stop home from church, he made me return it personally to the pastor and to express my deep regret. In 1967, in a Montreal hotel room, after I’d told a childhood lie, he told me to never tell a lie and I would always be able to look anyone straight in the eye. I never forgot it.

His siblings say he had a temper as a child and he admitted he fought his way through school. It’s hard for me to imagine. I only remember seeing him truly angry enough to fight one time, and that was when someone was trying to take advantage of his mother-in-law. He was always firm and no one doubted his resolve and absolute confidence, but anger held no place in his life.

Urban Father and Urban Girl, 2014

Urban Father, Urban Girl and Urban Boy, 2016

Urban Men, 2016

I never heard him utter one curse word and I never knew him to take a drink of alcohol. He smoked multiple packs of cigarettes a day until he saw me pick up a stick at age two and emulate him. He quit that day and never smoked again. He lived his life based on integrity and hard work. I’ve never known a person who worked harder at anything he decided to do.

His faith was always close to his heart. He attended a Baptist Church his whole life, multiple times a week, served in every capacity possible, gave ten percent or more of his money, and attended whether at home or traveling. I never heard him tell people how to believe, but he lived his faith so clearly that they were drawn to him. Caring for the sick and others in need, visiting hospitals and homes, sending notes and making phone calls was part of his nature. After his fall, the first day I arrived in Mobile, he sat up in his hospital bed and started making calls to, “sick people.”

He sacrificed in so many ways to give both me and my brother a better life. From the travel that was hard to afford, to the interference he ran when we inevitably got cross-wise of our mother, it was all for us. Fortunately, we told him many times that we appreciated all he did and he expressed to us how proud he was of who we became. We didn’t always agree – particularly if the topic turned to politics, but he always loved us and never wavered in his support.

Urban Guy and Urban Father, Victor Idaho, 2017

Don Sims and Family, Jackson Hole Wyoming, 2017

While I can say with conviction he was the best man I’ll ever know, I have to also acknowledge that it’s the little things that I will miss forever. To think that I’ll never share another meal with him, travel with him as we did out west this summer, “shake up” the dominoes over a dining room table, or talk LSU football is more than I can bear to focus on, just now. I called him, at least once a day, every day for the last twelve years, with very few exceptions, and the urge to pick up the phone won’t easily go away.

After some ups and downs, he contracted pneumonia and died on Monday, November 27. On November 30, a Naval color guard presented a flag to the family and played “Taps.” I had not processed how the song which had made me cry just a few days earlier would intersect with my intense grief. This time when I cried, I understood exactly what was lost.

 

I realize this very personal remembrance and isn’t the norm for this website. I simply have no choice but to acknowledge the passing of this man who long-time readers here have known as “Urban Father,” and I have known as the anchor of my life. I want to thank David, Heidi, Lee, Megan and Heather for filling in and allowing me the space to work through this difficult time. I was away for 2 1/2 weeks and I cannot overstate how happy I am to be back in the city I love and to be with each of you, once more.

Comments

  1. What a beautiful tribute to your wonderful father. Now we all know a little of this lovely man, and all share in the grief of his passing. Love to you and your family.

  2. A beautiful tribute to someone who obviously was a loving, and giving man. I am so sorry for your loss.

  3. Alan, thank you for sharing this beautiful tribute to your father. I am truly sorry for your great loss.

  4. Ken Sparks says:

    Alan, when I read this tribute yesterday, I had to step away before responding because it was so moving. But, not in a pitiful way. Much more inspiring. More like a glimpse into the life of an admirable man we could all learn something from, including honorable character. Your description of his integrity and the influence he must have had on you (and others) was in itself an honor to his legacy. While I mourn your loss with you in spirit, I am refreshed by hearing about your father’s values and the relationship you guys had. He may have sometimes felt invisible in today’s aggressive and sometimes rude society, but he made his eternal mark on you. And, now you’re making your mark in the best possible way. Thanks for sharing such a poignant profile of a loving father.

  5. Patsy Robinson says:

    My dearest Alan, I have never read such a touching account of a son’s love for his dad. He was everything you wrote and then some. He touched so many lives just by being the man he was and was humbled to be a servant of our Lord and Savior. He had such a wonderful smile and a twinkle in his eyes like the sparkling of the stars in the heavens above. He will be sorely missed by all who loved him, but his spirit will linger in our hearts forever. I love all of you and one more thought. He was so proud of his family and not only his sons but their families. His grandchildren were blessed with one of the greatest popa’s that anyone could have wanted. He had the generosity of Santa Clause and agape love of our Lord. I will miss him but I know that I will see him again someday. Much love, Aunt Pat

  6. Alan, thank you for your courage to write so personally about the loss of your father. Not only did I get to know the man who made you the man you are, but your words also tapped my own grief. I’ve lost both parents and its been many years but at times the grief returns for a visit. You so beautifully share the joy of our city through your writing, I thank you for so eloquently sharing the grief that is part of the human story. Peace, Becky & Jim

  7. Steve Smith says:

    Thanks for a wonderful remembrance of a life well lived. You are a lucky man, and he was lucky to have you as a son.

  8. Keeping you and yours in my thoughts and prayers, Alan. Thank you for sharing such a moving tribute. He will live forever in your heart and soul❣️

  9. Donna Spencer says:

    Thank you for sharing this beautiful tribute. Deepest condolences.

  10. Peter Scheffler says:

    Thank you, Alan. In today’s time of adulation of celebrities, it is good to remember those whom we should really try to emulate. I can understand why you miss him.

  11. A wonderfully written, deeply heartfelt tribute to your Father, Alan. As a father, I can say with confidence that any father can only dream of having such a profound, positive effect on his son. My condolences, but also, my congratulations on sharing such a beautiful, loving relationship with your Dad. RIP Don Sims.

  12. I’m sure your father was proud of the integrity with which you live your life and write your blog. You honor him by living your life as he did.

  13. I am so sorry for your loss, Alan. Your dad seems like he was a fantastic guy. Your description of him reminds me so much of my pappaw, who I love dearly, and helped raise me right, just like your dad clearly has. Thank you for sharing your stories with us.

  14. Petie Wilson says:

    Beautiful tribute to a wonderful father. May your memories be your source of comfort. Praying for you and your family.

  15. Brenda Clements Boyd says:

    Alan, so sorry for your loss of your father. Wayne and Sandra had spoken of him often and after hearing them talk about your mom, I bought, read and enjoyed her books. I met your mom through her writings and now I’ve met your dad through your writing. One day in eternity, I will meet them both in eternity and I believe we will enjoy each others company, looking forward to that.

  16. Clyde (Skipper) Sims says:

    Love and miss my big brother so much.

  17. Sandra Clements says:

    Papa Don was so genuinely kind. I remember his tender-hearted phone call when my own father passed 4 years ago. And Wayne & I treasured every moment you were all with us in your slice of time here during the multi-generation trip out west this summer. He taught us how to live, love and walk our faith every time we enjoyed his company. Rest in peace, Papa Don. Catch you on the flip side.

  18. Donna Sims says:

    My eyes were filled with tears as I read this. Not only from grief but also pride. Uncle Don was so much like grand daddy in his work but has Mammy’s loving heart. I love you my cousin and pray for you.

  19. Very sorry to hear of your loss.

  20. Ruth Burchfield says:

    What a beautiful remembrance and expression of love for your farther.
    I did not know your father but from just what you shared says what an exceptional man he was. So sorry for your loss

  21. Alan, I have long enjoyed our correspondence and that is because you have a way of elevating those who intersect your life. Your readers are better people, because of you. And, now, we see where that trait came from, in your father’s guidance. You and your extended family are so lucky to have shared in his light. My deepest sympathies to you.

  22. Melinda Derrick says:

    What a fine tribute. Thank you for sharing your dad’s life.

  23. Kaye Graybeal says:

    It sounds like you have some wonderful memories that nothing can take away and that will see you through this challenging time. So sorry to hear about this.

  24. Chris Durman says:

    That was absolutely beautiful, Alan. Thank you for sharing your remembrances. Best wishes to your whole family throughout this hard time.

  25. Betty Bean says:

    Such a moving tribute to your dad. He was clearly a wonderful man and you, clearly, are paying forward what he gave you.
    So sorry this final chain of events led to this outcome.

  26. Stan Hadley says:

    Alan, thank you for sharing your memories of your dad with us. He surely was a wonderful man and model of fatherhood. It made me, and I imagine many other readers, think back to their own fathers and grieve with you in your loss. My prayers are with you and the rest of your family.

  27. Thomas Skibinski says:

    My condolences, Alan. An absolutely wonderful tribute to a wonderful father, and fellow human.

  28. Walter Davis says:

    Thank you for sharing your story. A good man who raised a good son. My sympathy on your loss.

  29. Anita Armes says:

    Thank you for this sweet story, it is so refreshing to hear about people that are just simply good people. Sorry for your loss, I can tell you are thankful to be a part of this man’s family. Merry Christmas.

  30. Megan Venable says:

    Deepest condolences. Much love to you and the Urban Family as you mourn your loss.

  31. Tom Geisler says:

    Alan, I have few words, I know it hurts. Loosing you father is a very special pain. So sorry, …. tom

  32. Rachel Haun says:

    Beautifully written, Alan. Thank you for sharing! My heart goes out to you and your family.

  33. Jackie Benson says:

    Although I did not know them well I always thought that your parents were a classy couple at church. Now I wish I had known them better.

  34. douglas duff says:

    An urban legend written by my personal version of an urban father. You have a beautiful relationship with your father; the legend will never cease! I hope to recognize the mundane legend that is my own father soon, thanks to your presence with words.

  35. Bob Alcorn says:

    Beautiful tribute to your Dad and may your memories bring you comfort in your grief.

  36. Kathy Earle says:

    My condolences for the loss of your father. What a beautiful tribute! Thank you for sharing. Prayers for you and your family.

  37. Judith Meyer says:

    Thank you, Alan, for sharing this beautiful tribute in Inside of Knoxville. I appreciate knowing about your father and what a good person he was.

  38. Nancy Roberts says:

    I’ve read that every son quotes his father, in words and in deeds. After reading your tribute, I have a truer understanding of why you are the person that you are. My sincere condolences.

    • Kristi Gordon says:

      that is exactly what I was thinking as I read this lovely tribute. You clearly reflect the best of him in your own life and he lives on in you.

  39. Beautiful Tribute to an Awesome Dad… Thanks for Sharing…

  40. So sorry for you loss, he sounds like a remarkable man. Sending good vibes your way.

  41. This is a touching tribute to your father, who clearly was a man with a commitment to his family, had a strong work ethic and a big and generous heart. Your family was blessed by his presence.

  42. Life has an end…. Love Doesn’t. God Bless.

  43. gregory austin says:

    Sorry to hear of your loss. Your Father raised a good son in you and that is a grand accomplishment in these times. Continue to honor him with your life and work

  44. Thanks for sharing your Dad’s story. It was a good life that facilitated many other good lives…Chris

  45. Such a beautiful tribute! Thank you for sharing!

  46. Linda Fitzpatrick says:

    A beautiful tribute to your Father and to a time we have left behind. I’m so happy that you wrote this, I’ve shared it on my Facebook page with friends across the US and overseas because it gives a glimpse of America that’s too rarely seen. Thank you for writing, I send my condolences and love at this sad time.

  47. I’m sorry. Your parents created a strong, loving family–no better way to live.

  48. Jim McKinney says:

    It is impossible to measure the impact and wonder of a life well lived. There is no greater blessing than a father who mirrors his Father the way your Dad did. May the sweetness of his life soften the loss you feel. Blessings

  49. Oh Alan I’m so very sorry for your loss, thank you for sharing your father with us. May his memory be for a blessing to you forever xo

  50. A. Virden says:

    Wow! What a heart warming tribute. May we all touch someone’s life the way your father touched yours. It was an honor to read about his life and what an amazing person he was. Thank you for sharing.

  51. Alice Mercer says:

    A wonderful tribute to a man I wish I had known. Peace be with you in your grief.

  52. What a beautiful tribute to a wonderful man. Our condolences to your family.

  53. Terri Karlsson says:

    Beautiful story. You look so much like your Dad.

  54. Kristin Toussaint says:

    What a beautiful tribute to a very special man indeed. The world is a better place for his life. Thank you for sharing this piece.

  55. I’m sorry about your dad. I guess it’s no surprise to hear he was such a good guy. Beautiful tribute. Welcome home.

  56. Keith Leonard says:

    My condolences to you and your family. An amazing person…

  57. What a fortunate man you are to have that legacy! It would be a world changer if all children could have a father like that.

  58. K-Kin Fairbank says:

    So very sorry about your loss and may wonderful memories of your Dad comfort you in days ahead. Your love and admiration for him shines brightly. Thank you for sharing his beautiful life.

  59. Mary Linda Schwarzbart says:

    A beautiful tribute to a remarkable life well lived. May his memory be for a blessing.

  60. Andrea Murphy says:

    I am so sorry for your loss.
    What a Life Well Lived.
    A great example of a great man. I know he is missed. Peace be with you and all your Family.

  61. Leslie Gallaher says:

    My deepest sympathy. How fortunate you both were to have each other. The love you shared with your father is, I think, rare.

  62. Rosanna Iosso says:

    So sorry for your loss , His Spirit will always be in your Heart . Excellent tribute you wrote .

  63. Linda Sielepkowski says:

    Very sorry you have lost your Dad. You wrote a wonderful tribute to him.

  64. What a beautiful tribute!! Thanks for being vulnerable enough to share it with your readers. We are all better for hearing his story told through your loving words. You have my deepest sympathy.

  65. Thank you for sharing this beautiful tribute to your dad; it is very clear that he was, and is, a big part of who you are today. This is another example of how eloquently you bring the human side to what is going on in the lives of the people in our community. I am sorry for your loss.

  66. Your dad sounded like an amazing man…..I’m sure he will be missed very much. Thank you for sharing is wonderful story with us…

  67. Chris DeRolph says:

    Sorry for your loss Alan. Sounds like a great man.

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